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Hodge’s Schleiermacher (3)

Charles Hodge’s next reference to Schleiermacher in his notes as preserved in his son’s Life comes from less than a week after the last reference, 14 March 1827 (a Wednesday, if you’re curious). This journal-entry deals with the subject of pantheism, whether Schleiermacher was a pantheist, and the relation of the philosophy and religion. Hodge says:

I have, this evening, had the pleasure of conversing for two or three hours with Tholuck in my own room. Our conversation was principally on the philosophical systems of Germany. He said that many Christian theologians were inclined to many of the principles of the Pantheistic philosophers–that they could not conceive how God could create out of nothing–and therefore admit that the material universe and the soul of man are of the divine essence. But they differ from the Pantheists in being persuaded of the personality of the Deity, and the individuality of the human soul, believing that it is the highest exercise of divine power to confer this personal individuality upon his creatures. Schleiermacher would not admit the appellation of Pantheist, which he says is a nick-name, and belongs to the materialistic Pantheists, while he is himself what would be commonly understood by the term. Tholuck said that of English philosophers Reid and Hume were most esteemed, Stewart less, and Locke not at all. It seemed to me a great misfortune that philosophy is mixed up with religion in this country, for it gives so abstruse and mystical a character to the explanations of important truths that there is little reason to be surprised that the term Mystics has been applied to the advocates of piety. Thus, for instance, they make faith to be the development of the life of God in the soul–that is–the divine essence everywhere diffused and the universal agent unfolding itself in the heart. Tholuck read several passages for me from Schleiermacher’s Dogmatik, but they seemed to me to darken counsel by words without wisdom. Tholuck surprised me by saying that since his twentieth year he had seldom been able to secure more than three of four hours a day for study.

Hodge, it is clear, does not like pantheism–no big surprise there. Schleiermacher did not want to be called one, according to Tholuck, because he was not a materialist, though the passage indicates he was ok with the term in its “common” meaning. Hodge also does not like the way in which philosophy and religion are “mixed up” in Germany. The relation is a complicated one (as addressed in e.g. the most recent issue of Ad Fontes), and it is of course possible that the peculiar “mixture” Hodge has in view is bad, while other types of coordination are less so. I may return to this in the future via an essay of Hodge’s associate-turned-sparring-partner, John Williamson Nevin (an essay that seems to show much more comfort with German thought than Hodge allows–fascinating, because Hodge, unlike Nevin, was actually educated in Germany: indeed, Nevin covered Hodge’s classes at Princeton while Hodge studied in Europe).1 What Hodge describes in the entry above sounds like a really, really bad riff on theosis. (There are good riffs on this too.)

Finally, it is interesting to note who from the British Isles had cachet in Germany at this time: David Hume and his respectful critic, the common-sense philosopher Thomas Reid. I find this gratifying. Poor Locke, though.

  1. In fact, one wonders if Nevin’s essay is at least in part a response to Hodge’s views about philosophy.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.